The Lufthansa Group, including Lufthansa, Austrian, and SWISS, will eliminate complimentary snacks and drinks onboard short- and medium-haul economy class flights starting next year and introduce a new buy-on-board menu. While not an unexpected move, it is still a disappointing one.
Lufthansa Group Cuts Free Economy Class Catering
Most onboard food and drink on short-haul and medium-haul flights has been suspended during the pandemic due to
safety cost cutting concerns.
Disappointingly, Lufthansa hails today’s news as a win for customers, the sort of double talk that raises more customer ire than simply stating this was a painful but necessary cost-cutting move. Christina Foerster, a member of the Executive Board Lufthansa Group responsible for Customer, IT & Corporate Responsibility spun it in this way:
“Our current snack offer in Economy Class does not always meet the expectations of our guests. The new offer was developed on the basis of feedback from our customers. With the high-quality offer available for purchase, our passengers will be able to decide what they want to eat and drink on their journey.”
As One Mile At A Time properly notes, “I’d like to talk to the person who said ‘the Diet Coke is fine, I just don’t like how it’s free.’”
The new offer will be introduced in phases as of spring 2021: Austrian Airlines will begin, followed by SWISS and Lufthansa; the new products will be revealed by individual airlines over the coming months.
Austrian Airlines Will Introduce “Austrian Melangerie” Buy-On-Board Service
Austrian’s new buy-on-board service will be available on flights of up to three hours. Passengers will receive an “Austrian Signature Treat” onboard (which Austrian also calls “a sweet present”), but the current offer of “sweet” or “salty” snacks all be eliminated. Austrian also asserts customers simply did not like the free snacks:
Even before the coronavirus crisis, it was already evident that the simple choice of either a sweet or a salty snack no longer corresponds to the expectations of Austrian Airlines passengers.
Instead, an “Austrian Melangerie” will be offered with food and drinks available for purchase.
The focus of the new offering is on quality, regionality and variety. Accordingly, the menu will include classic Austrian dishes such as apple strudel or a cold platter (an Austrian Brettljause). Cold and warm snacks as well as an extensive offering of primarily regional beverages will round off the new catering concept.
Additional menu items will include:
- Viennese breakfast
- chicken schnitzel
- Kaiserschmarren (sweet cut-up pancakes with raisins)
Meals and beverages will remain free on flights over three hours and on Austrian Holidays charter flights.
SWISS Will Introduce “SWISS Saveurs” Buy-On-Board Service
Like Austrian, SWISS will also introduce regionally-inspired hot and cold dishes on its buy-on-board menu.
Dubbed “SWISS Saveurs,” the menu will largely resemble what was already trialed out of Geneva.
SWISS also tries to spin this as a move that customers demanded. Chief Commercial Officer Tamur Goudarzi Pour noted:
“Our guests today want to have a greater say in their individual travel experience and that expectation is no longer always met through our present inflight food and beverage product. In Geneva, we already offer our customers the opportunity to select their preferred snacks and drinks themselves under our ‘SWISS Saveurs’ programme. We’ve been getting very good feedback on this quality product from the guests concerned. So we’ve decided to extend the programme to our flights from Zurich, too.”
The new buy-on-board program in Zurich will start at an unspecified date in the spring. Chocolate and water will remain complimentary.
Will Business Class Meals Change As Well?
The press releases from all three carriers make clear that there will be no changes to business class catering. Austrian, for example, states:
The adjustments will not affect Business Class passengers. Their choices and service offering will remain unchanged.
SWISS and Lufthansa, on behalf of the group, offer similar assurances.
However, the usually-knowledgeable Paddle Your Own Kanoo reports that Lufthansa is considering offering boxed snacks rather than meals in porcelain in business class.
A Different Business Model?
For years, Lufthansa and SWISS have offered delicious sandwiches and complimentary beverages in economy class.
> Read More: The Simplicity Of An Airline Sandwich
I do not think many people flew Lufthansa economy class for the “free” and food and drink. Nevertheless, a nice sandwich and choice of beverage was just a little touch of civility in an airline industry that has made travel more burdensome for the masses.
The new section of food and drink sounds lovely, but eliminating a free beverage and light snack strikes me as antithetical to any assertion that Lufthansa can realistically command a huge premium over its budget competitors.
Still, British Airways already did it a couple years ago and Air France-KLM are probably next. The “unbundling” of all-inclusive fares is a trend that will be with us always.
Make no mistake, though: the problem with unbundling is that while services are cut, prices generally do not fall. You get less for your money, not more.
The Lufthansa Group will still attract many of its current customer base, but I do think budget competitors like EasyJet, Ryanair, and Wizzair will continue to whittle away at Lufthansa’s market share. Who will pay double for a flight when service levels are identical to a low-cost carrier?
News leaked of the catering cuts on Monday, likely forcing Lufthansa to officially unveil the news earlier than it had hoped for. In that sense, we will likely still see tinkering with the program. While I look forward to trying some of the new dishes, the elimination of complimentary food and drink further levels the playing field between the Lufthansa Group and its budget competition. Frequent flyers and business travelers won’t divert, but the move creates an opening for budget carriers to make a more compelling argument on the value they provide to travelers.